The Punjab government’s flagship Lahore Orange Line Metro Train project has taken a beating, and how. Touted to be a landmark mass transit project, which would be made part of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (EPEC), looks like it is heading for a crisis of sorts.
Whether it is the issue of safeguarding the historical and heritage sites of the city, the question of funds, cost rationalisation, environmental concerns, coordination between relevant government departments, traffic flow, or safety and healthcare of the labour force, mess is the order of day.
When work began on the project from the length of 27.1 km from Ali Town, Raiwind Road to Dera Gujran at GT road, legal and procedural hiccups surfaced.
Responding to the public concern, the Lahore High Court (LHC) Thursday ordered to stop the government from further demolishing buildings along the route of the Metro train. Though, the final decision shall come on November 10.
Meanwhile, protest demonstrations by the civil society, educationists and environmentalists are also brewing. Punjab University Academic Association (PUAA), headed by its vice president Dr Abid Hussain, led a protest rally against the office set up for Metro train in the University Town.
Initially, the Metro Train route was supposed to engulf the historical sites such as Shalimar Gardens, Chauburji, General Post Office (GPO) and Maqbara Dai Anga. However, after reservations expressed from different quarters, a revised plan came to the government’s rescue.
As per the new route design, only the GPO boundary walls are going to be bulldozed for the time being. But it is stated that the proposed underpass shall undermine the foundation and structural importance of the building.
The elevated portion of the Metro train is also under fire. It is said that the portion will impair the look of Chauburji. Same is the case with Shalimar Gardens.
Conservationist Naheed Ameen says the modern mode of transportation is what we need at the moment. “But the government should not be allowed to play havoc with the historical sites in the name of public facility,” she adds.
Lahore Conservation Society President Kamil Khan Mumtaz, during a meeting urgently summoned to save Lahore Heritage and Eco System, called for an immediate change in the design of Metro Train route. The meeting also claimed that development work could not be carried out within 200 feet radius of the heritage sites, under the Antiquities Act, 1975. “The Metro Train route is a clear infringement of the existing law,” Mumtaz said.
The proposed Lahore Orange Line Metro Train has also incurred problems of estimation of the accurate cost of project. Preliminary, it was set at around Rs127 billion. Later, it surged to Rs148 billon on the basis of the initial PC-1 Cost.
Before the loan agreement was about to be inked, the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (ECNEC) fixed Rs165 billion (Rs150 billion by Chinese Exim Bank as a loan and Rs15 billion by the Punjab government) as the total cost of the project.
The story of haphazardness does not end here as the cost is still likely to go through the roof and may near a whopping Rs200 billion.
The existing situation has given the Chinese government many a spin. Fearing further ebbs and flows in cost evaluation, the said Chinese bank appears to be dragging its feet.
An insider in the Planning Commission reveals that the funding process was never stalled; it only slowed down.
There is also a disagreement on the mark-up rate on the loan, he adds. “We want about 2 per cent interest rate against the 2.4 per cent proposed by the Chinese Bank.”
The Punjab Mass Transit Authority (PMTA), which is at the helm of affairs, has been desperately waiting for a penny to come from the Chinese authorities since the deal was signed on May 22, 2014.
According to PMTA General Manager (Operations) Ayaz Shah, “We have not received any funding so far for the Lahore Orange Line Metro Train. It was expected to come in in October but sadly it didn’t.”
Shah also says the mark-up rate is still under deliberation, “As soon as both the parties reach a fair deal, it will be made public.”
As per the deal, Chinese consortium, China Railways (CR) and Norinko will collaborate with LDA, NESPAK and PMTA to provide all assistance, from civil to mechanical. They will monitor, inspect and manage multi-dimensional tasks including electrical and mechanical system, automated fare collection, signalling, power supply, railway track and communication systems.
LDA spokesperson Sohail Janjua says the Authority has increased the pace of civil work. “It will construct a bridge worth Rs80 billion. Bidding process has started. However, it has nothing to do with the total cost, its execution and funding by the Chinese bank. We receive funding from the Punjab government and, as per plan, work is underway.”
Typical bureaucratic mindset and obstinacy are also seen as impeding the development work. “The Chinese monitoring personnel engaged with NESPAK aren’t feeling comfortable,” claims an official in Habib Construction Company that has partnered with LDA. “Their queries are not being addressed timely and often they are not given an opportunity to access the sites and inspect independently.”
The government wants to complete the project before the next general elections, clearly to gain political mileage. In its hurry, it has overlooked a number of environmental aspects of the project. More than 620 trees are destined to be felled. The EIA report was finalised in haste.
Talking to TNS, Environment Protection Department (EPA) DG Dr Javed Iqbal says the EIA report was prepared on the request of the LDA in accordance with the set procedures and law.
Ecogreen Society Pakistan President Akhtar H Awan slams the government for fiddling with the city’s ecosystem. He also terms the EIA report as fake, saying it does not answer how many tonnes of Carbon dioxide, Sulfur Oxides, Nitrogen Oxides and Carbon monoxide, PM 10, and PM 2.5 will add with pre- and post-construction of the Metro Train project.
“After the project rolls out, what will be the quantitative and qualitative environmental impacts on the social life and property of the people in the city?” he asks. “The EIA report is silent on these matters.”
The proposed train shall pass through Niaz Baig, Bund Road, Chauburji, Anarkali, Laxmi, Railway Station, University of Engineering and Technology, Shalimar Garden, Islam Park and Dera Gujran.
Around 1,150 kanals of land will be used for the Metro Train route. Selected spots have been earmarked. However, nobody knows when the land acquisition process will commence and what will be the modus operandi to compensate the affectees.
Existing energy crisis has also put a big question mark on the future of the project as it will need 74MW electricity to function. How will the government sort out the issue is another question begging for an answer.